Tim has been an online writer for over nine years. His articles focus on everything from pet care to tool reviews.
Types of Nail Guns
Ahh…the good old claw hammer. Such a wonderfully ubiquitous construction tool. Especially if you’re just putting up a picture on the wall, doing a quick repair on something, or just venting your frustration.
But seriously, if the job is more involved, you’ll be hammering away until you’ve got a headache. You’ll really want to get a nail gun or nailer. Not only does a nail gun save you a hell of a lot of time, but you’ll save yourself the headache as well. Instead of multiple taps to get that nail in, you’ll need only one from the nail gun—pow!—and it’s in.
There are two types of firing mechanisms in a nail gun:
- One is dual-contact firing, where the nail will fire as long as you hold down the trigger and press the nosing against the work. This allows you to fire a nail, move to the next spot, and continue with a series of nails without having to release and re-press the trigger each time.
- The other is sequential firing, which is a bit safer. This requires that you release the trigger first before each nail is fired. The nosing must be pressed onto the work before the trigger will function. (Improvements in safety of nail guns is ongoing.)
Below, you'll find a list of different types of nail guns you might choose and a description of what each one is good for.
Let’s start with the heaviest duty nailer..the framing nailer.
- As the name suggests, this type of nailer is used for wood framing in a building and heavy construction.
- This type frequently requires up to 3½” nails to join 2x4s.
- Heavy-duty is the order of the day.
- All these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.
- This generally uses shorter nails with larger heads, and can also be used for siding and similar materials as well.
- The nails usually come on a coil.
- These models also offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.
- These are specially designed to make laying tongue-and-groove floorboards simple and fast.
- You won’t have to wear out your knees. You simply hold the nailer against the edge of the board and with a moderate whack on the plunger with the nylon mallet, the nail is in, at the right angle and the right depth, every time.
- The finishing nailer is your best all-around nailer for indoor trim and similar jobs.
- This uses shorter, lighter gauge nails, usually 14 to 16 gauge, 1” to 2½” nails.
- This is used for mouldings around windows and doors, baseboards, chair rails and such, as well as cabinet making.
- Finishing nailers are available both as air compression and as cordless nailers.
- All these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.
Read More From Dengarden
- A lighter duty nailer is a brad nailer for 18-gauge nails, 5/8” to 2”.
- Brad nailers differ from the finishing nailers mostly by the fact that the nail magazine is not angled as with finishing and framing nailers.
- The brad nailer is usually used for smaller wood projects, upholstery, and other such precision work.
- While the brads are small and leave a fairly tiny hole to fill, they hold really well.
- As with most nailers these days, all these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.
About Cordless Nailers
- The cordless nailers are currently more expensive than the pneumatic models, but of course they don’t require that you have a compressor or a hose to deal with.
- Some cordless nailers use a fuel cell for nail propulsion, which needs to be replaced every 500 nails though, so you have to take that cost into account.
- The battery-charged models don’t have such a requirement.
- The cordless, use-it-anywhere aspect is the real selling feature here, much like cordless drills have freed up the necessity of a power cord.
Are Nail Guns Safe?
Any tool can be dangerous in the wrong hands. This is especially so for power tools. While nail guns have been designed to not fire unless the pressure tip is first pressed against the work, you can still accidentally tap it against something if you’re pressing the trigger as well (see dual-contact firing, just below).
That pretty much nails it…
While nail guns (or nailers) have been around for about 25 years, many refinements have been made. Newer materials like magnesium and aluminum alloys have made the tools lighter. Plus more attention has been paid to ergonomic design, so that the tool is properly balanced and easier to grip. Adjusting the firing method no longer requires a special tool. Adjusting the depth of the nail no longer requires adjusting the air compressor.
Cordless models which don’t require a compressor, and therefore a hose are now widely available. Whether you’re a professional contractor or a DIY homeowner, you’ll find you get the job done in less than half the time it would have taken with a hammer and nails.
Many of these nailers could pay for themselves in no time.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: What kind of cordless nail gun can switch between framing and finishing nails?
Answer: To the best of my knowledge and research, you can't do such a thing.
The shortest nails you can use with a framing nailer are about 2 3/8", and the longest nails for a finishing nailer are about 2". So you couldn't use the same nails in either type of gun.
The framing nailer is also designed to fire nails with a sizeable head on them, whereas the finishing nails are fairly 'headless.'
In other words, these nailers are both purpose-built, with no cross-over compatibilities.
Question: I am not seeing anything about a 'fence' nailer on Amazon. Is the tool in this article more of a 'framing nailer' which can be used for fencing?
Answer: For fence boards, I usually use a finishing nailer, and nails with a small head or something like siding nails like these:
The framing nailer in your Amazon link would be a bit of overkill for fence boards, I would say unless they were fairly thick.
Question: I'm going to build a shed and will buy a framing nailer to build the floor, walls, and rafters, and to attach OSB. But what about the siding and roofing, can I use the types of nails for siding and roofing in a framing nailer? Or will I just need to break out the ol' hammer to complete the siding and roofing on my shed?
Answer: Most framing nailers have a minimum fastener (nail) length of 2". Whereas, roofing nails are typically 1 1/4". You could probably rent a roofing nailer if you're just doing a shed.
Here's a useful page about correct roofing installation, from the shingle manufacturer, IKO: https://www.iko.be/en/blog/proper-nailing-essentia...
Siding nails require a smaller head than roofing nails, so you'll have to check with your local building center to see what's available for the roofing nailer you're going to use.
Question: I’m going to attach 3/8"-thick sheet siding on the side of a building onto 2x4 studs. What’s the best nailer that you recommend?
Answer: A finishing nailer will work fine. Use about 1-1/4" long 16 gauge nails.
If these are subpanels which you're going to cover with a finished material, you could use a roofing nailer for the subpanels and a finishing nailer for the outer material where the nail heads/holes are less likely to be seen.
Question: I want to install pine paneling measuring 5/16"x 3-1/2"x 8', over a Gyproc wall. What gun and nail size is best for this installation?
Answer: Unfortunately, Gyproc is probably not solid enough to hold the nails. You could try it, but the nails may loosen over time. If you choose to go this route or use my next suggestion, a finishing nailer with 1-1/4" nails would do the job.
Alternatively, you could use 1x3 strapping horizontally, spacing them every 12 to 16", over the Gyproc, making sure they are screwed into the studs behind. Then attach the panels with the nailer at the strapping points.
Your other option is to use adhesive caulking (LePage's PL200 or equivalent) to apply the panels directly to the Gyproc wall. If the wall is in good shape and smooth, it should hold quite well.
Question: I need to nail down a few flooring transition strips in my home, but also want to use a nail gun for some smaller wood/decor projects. Can a brad nailer do both?
Answer: Brad nails are usually lighter gauge than finishing nails. For floor transition strips, you want a heavier gauge (16) nails, that will stand up to heavy traffic use. This pretty much dictates using a finishing nailer. You can also get lighter gauge finishing nails for decor projects. Check out your local building center.
Question: I'm going to install a tongue and groove ceiling on a porch. What type of nailer should be used?
Answer: It depends what is on the porch ceiling at the moment. If it is open studs, and the preferred orientation of the panels runs 90 degrees to the studs, then just use a finishing nailer, and about 1 1/2" (or longer) galvanized nails (assuming the panels are at least 1/2" thick).
If the present ceiling is plywood over studs, make sure it is all solidly screwed or nailed into the studs first. Then use the nailer to attach the T&G panels. With a plywood ceiling, you have the option of orienting the T&G panels either way.
You should also pre-prime the panels with an outdoor primer or a good quality finish and/or stain on all sides before installing.
Question: Is there such thing as a nail gun that uses U shaped nails heavy enough for fencing?
Answer: Not that I'm aware of. The nearest thing you could use is a framing nailer, which uses large head nails. With the proper pressure, you should be able to get the nails to sink firmly into the posts and hold the fence wire firmly as well. Not quite as good as the U-nails, but adequate. It depends how much fencing you have to deal with.
Question: I want to replace my old wooden porch railings and stair railings. What type of nailer would you recommend?
Answer: If you're going through 2x4's into 2x2's, and you don't want big nail heads or to use screws, I'd go with a finishing nailer, and use fairly long nails (3", 16-18 ga.).
Question: I want to replace my old fence. I am thinking about buying wood fence pickets 1/2" by 5-1/2" by 6ft. So, what type of brad nailer do you recommend?
Answer: I would actually recommend a finishing nailer in this case. A brad nailer is for smaller, upholstery type of work. For fence boards (they're typically closer to 5/8" thick), use 1 1/4" to 1 1/2" nails.
Question: I'm getting ready to install quite a bit of exterior wood trim around windows and doors. I don't want a nail with a head; I want an exterior finish nail. What kind of nailer should I get?
Answer: I would suggest a finishing nailer, using a 16 gauge nail. Most of these nails don't have much of a head anyway. The nail shaft is coated with a glue that melts (because of the friction) as it goes into the work. The glue hardens again, holding the parts firmly, thus minimizing the need for a nail 'head' to hold the front piece. The resulting small holes on the trim can then be filled with spackling, sanded and painted.
Question: I am putting new insulation in the attic. Which nailer should I use for my roof without going through the shingles?
Answer: You should first investigate the proper way of insulating your attic space. This depends on some factors, including the expected winter temperatures in your region.
The attic needs air circulation, so the insulation should NOT block the soffit vents, otherwise, in freezing cold weather, frost will form on the insulation and leak into the house when it melts. A properly insulated roof/attic also minimizes or eliminates the formation of icicles from the eavestroughs.
The roof boards that the shingles are nailed to, are usually about 3/4" to 1" thick, and one or more layers of shingles and a tar paper/protective barrier adds another 3/8".
If you were nailing something into the roof boards from the inside, you'd want to use nails that will penetrate the board by at least 1/2", but no more than 3/4".
Question: I'm doing some work with old ceiling tin and wood. What nailer would work best to attach the tin to wood?
Answer: Most finishing nails don't have a large enough head to hold metal. You're better off using a small (1 1/4" long) 'siding' or framing nail with a moderate flat head. This product is close to what you would need:
Of course, you'll need a framing nailer that takes these nail 'coils.'
Question: I'm making blanket ladders using 2x3's. Would a ramset work for that or should I get a finishing nailer? It calls for 2.5 " nails.
Answer: Most blanket ladders I've seen have 3 to 5 rungs. Depending how many ladders you're making, it may be just as easy to use 3 inch wood screws. Nailers are only a time-saver if you've got 100 or more nails to do. Finishing nails aren't going to hold 2x3's as solidly as either a framing nailer or regular 3" #8 wood screws.
It also depends whether you want the screws or nails to be visible or not. You might also consider using wood plugs over the screw holes, which adds to the rustic look of the blanket ladder as well.
Question: Which type of nail gun is good for getting into small places that I need a nail to hold something together?
Answer: Your best bet would be a Brad nailer, since this is the smallest type available.
Question: I'm using sawmill rough cut pine and hardwoods to cover the interior walls on 24 on-center studs of my shed. Some boards are a full 1 inch thick and up to 8 feet long. What size nail gun and nails should I use?
Answer: You could use either a finishing nailer and 2" long 15 gauge collated finishing nails (nail heads are fairly invisible), or use a framing nailer with 1 3/4" to 2" flat head nails, around 0.09" to 0.12" shank (< 1/8"), if you don't mind the nail heads.
Question: I want to use a power tool to set nails in boards for string art. The nails need to be set above the wood, and the nails should have a head on them. What power tool would be best for placing nails into boards for string art?
Answer: You can try using a scrap piece of wood the thickness of nail protrusion you need. Then drill a hole in this scrap piece, twice the diameter of the nail (head) you intend to use, placing the foot of the (roofing) nailer over the hole, and fire the nail.
You'll have to reduce the pressure to the nailer quite a bit, so the nail doesn't go any further than the face of the scrap piece.
You'll have to experiment some, of course. Making sure the nails fully penetrate the backing board, but no more than necessary.
You're getting into 'non-recommended use' territory here.
As always..safety first!!
Question: Should I use a 15 or 16 gauge finish nailer for woodworking?
Answer: Apart from the question being too vague, it depends on the type of materials and density. For thin plywood, 18 gauge would suffice. For heavier plywoods or hardwoods, 16 gauge would do the job. You need to adjust the nailer air pressure for different densities so that the nail head ends up just below the surface.
A nail every 6 inches is usually enough to hold a panel, as long as the nail is long enough to fully penetrate into a solid surface underneath, like a wall stud (2x4).
Question: What is the best nailer for hardieplank ?
Answer: This depends on the type of studs or sub-surface you're attaching the planks to. Here's an informative pdf sheet from the James Hardie website: https://www.jameshardie.com/d2w/installation/hardi...
Question: I need to nail down 4' x 8' sheets of 5/8" plywood. what type of nail do I need?
Answer: You haven't mentioned what the sheets are being attached to. I'm assuming floor joists. In this case, you can use the product I mentioned in a previous answer above (see the homedepot link). Although you're better off with a longer nail than 1 1/4"..more like 1 1/2 to 2" long, to properly penetrate the floor joists.
Question: I am going to need a nail gun for a project to install both 1/2 in. thick Shiplap boards to a wall (studs) as well as for trim and baseboards. Which nail gun would work best for both types of boards?
Answer: A finishing nailer will work for all these types of boards, although the baseboard and trim may need longer nails, depending on the thickness. By the way, true 'shiplap' boards have a rabbet joint on each edge, so they overlap. Whereas, plain wood planks or tongue and groove are not true shiplap boards.
Question: I have 10mm oak flooring board which have lifted. I need to nail these boards firmly down into the solid concrete building slab, which is very tough. Additionally, I do not want a huge hole or mess ontop of the oak floorboards for me to have to spend a huge amount of time & effort to fix. I prefer electric, so which nail gun & nail type should I be looking at purchasing?
Answer: The issue of laying wood flooring on top of a concrete slab is a complex one. You should check with your local municipality for building codes, or hire a contractor that is knowledgeable in this type of installation. It also depends whether the concrete is above or below grade.
In general, however, it involves making sure the concrete is completely dry, then laying a 6-mil vapor barrier on top. Then laying plywood planks on top of this, using concrete screws to fasten the plywood to the slab. You can then install your flooring in the normal way. A flooring nailer is the best type to use. They do come as electric nailers. Check out your local building center.
Question: I own a porter cable nailer f350. Can I use three-inch finishing nails in my porter cable nailer?
Answer: I couldn't find a model f350. The nearest is a fr350, which is a framing nailer. As such, the nails have larger, round heads. Without seeing this model, I can't say whether it would accept finishing nails. I would imagine that the firing mechanism is sized to shoot large head nails, and it may jam if you tried using finishing nails, even if they fit in the magazine feed.
You're on your own on this one..so be careful. I will not be held responsible or liable for any actions you take.
Question: What type of nailer is best for repairs to aluminum siding?
Answer: The trouble with using a nailer with sheet metal is, except for roofing nails, the other types of nailer's nails have very small heads on them. You need some flat headed nail to hold the metal to the wood beneath.
Roofing nails would be too unsightly for siding repairs, and I've not found any nailer nails that are sort of 'in-between.' Sounds like a need that is not yet being met...
If you haven't got too many repairs to make, you could go back to the old hammer and nails method. It's best to drill a small hole in the siding for each intended fix, before pounding a nail into it. This will prevent a big dimple in the siding where the nail punctures the metal.
Question: I will be top nailing 5/16 red oak, what nailer can I use?
Answer: If the red oak is flooring planks, then use a flooring nailer, otherwise, a finishing nailer and 1" nails should work fine.
Question: can I use a finishing nailer for strapping a wall?
Answer: Yes, you can use a finishing nailer as long as it's not a brick wall you're nailing into. In that case, you should use concrete screws such as TapCon.
Question: I'm planning on doing some fairly light framing for a travel trailer. The studs are 2"×2". What type of nailer do you recommend?
Answer: Assuming you don't want to see large nail heads, use a finishing nailer, with 3" (16-18 ga.) nails.
Question: Can I use my nail gun to attach trim to brick?
Answer: Not in my experience. Brick is much too dense to nail into directly. Even concrete nails would not hold very well, or very long. You need to drill holes with a concrete drill first, and use either plastic or metal anchors and appropriate sized screws. Or use Tapcon concrete screws.
Question: Can pin nailers be used on plaster walls?
Answer: I wouldn't rely on the plaster being strong enough to hold any large piece of wood or trim, unless you locate the studs behind the plaster, and nail into that.
Question: I am building some cubby shelves from plywood. What type of nail gun should I use?
Answer: A finishing nailer should do the job. The only problem you'll have is attaching each vertical piece to the shelf below.
I would recommend a nail (at a 45 degree angle) near the bottom of the front edge and bottom rear edge, since you probably won't be able to get the nailer inside the cubby spaces.
Use a nail length that will almost completely penetrate the shelf below..or longer (2") if the vertical pieces are aligned.
Question: What degree of framing nailer is best to build a deck?
Answer: For the structural parts of the deck frame (2x8's), a framing nailer is the best type to use.
For the deck boards and railings, use a finishing nailer, and heavy, 16 gauge nails, 1 3/4" to 2" long. However, the deck boards may hold to the joists a few years longer, if you use deck screws instead.
© 2011 Tim Nichol
Your comments are welcome...
Linda Adkins on July 18, 2019:
What kind of nailer and what size nails should be used to install 2x4 shelving that will eventually hold a brick collection? No, I'm not kidding. The shelves will fill a space of about 3 feet between the studs of an outbuilding. Thanks so much for your help.
Tim Nichol (author) from Me to You on February 06, 2019:
Not sure what a pin nailer is. A brad nailer is a lighter duty nailer, intended for upholstery and such.
For thinner plywood or panelling and baseboard, use a finishing nailer, and nails that are about 3 times as long as the total thickness of the plywood and baseboard.
In other words, the nails should penetrate the 2x4's by about an inch or so.
SLT on January 28, 2019:
What is the difference between a Pin nailer, Brad nailer, and a Finish nailer? Which is preferable to attach baseboard, and also plywood to 2x4 not covered by sheetrock?
connie on December 08, 2018:
i have weak hands and need a lite nailer for some moulding and real wood paneling and other crafts like picture frames and such like hanging stuff on the wall (my new she shed) mostly little stuff is there one tool for me that's electric with a cord or do I need to buy more than one (hope not) thanks for your site good read.